Sexually Transmitted Infections
STD and STI are often used interchangeably. STD refers to sexually transmitted diseases. STI refers to sexually transmitted infections.
STIs can be transmitted through exposure to infected bodily fluids or through direct contact with infected skin – typically during sexual activity. The bodily fluids that transmit STIs are semen, vaginal fluids, and blood (including menstrual discharge).
Having an STI is not an indicative of someone’s character or morals – it’s just what happens when people are in close, intimate contact with each other. Using condoms can significantly reduce the risk of fluid exchange to prevent STIs, but exposed skin is still susceptible.
The most common symptom of an STI is actually no symptom. This is why routine STI testing is crucial because people often don’t realize they have an STI and can unknowingly pass it to others.
If symptoms do present, they may include…
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis, or anus
- Pain or discomfort during urination
- Sores or blisters around the vagina, penis, or anus
- Itchy genitals or anus
Bacterial STIs can often be treated and cured with antibiotic medication. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are the most common bacterial STIs.
Viral STIs cannot be cured, but they can sometimes be treated with antiviral medications to manage symptoms and reduce the likelihood of transmitting to a sexual partner. Viral STIs include herpes, HIV, hepatitis, and HPV. Both hepatitis and HPV have vaccinations available for prevention.
Other STIs can be caused by living organisms. Pubic lice and trichomoniasis can be treated and cured using prescribed medication in the form of pills, creams, or ointments.
If left untreated, STIs can lead to serious health conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), cervical cancer, infertility, and can even be fatal. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your healthcare provider for testing and treatment.
There is no single “STI Test” to cover all STIs. It will be best to consult with your healthcare provider to determine which tests will be appropriate for you based on certain risk factors. Students can call 706-542-1162 or schedule their appointment on their Patient Portal. Let a staff member know if you prefer a male or female healthcare provider.
STI testing is not anonymous, but it is confidential. If you are 18 or older, your parents cannot access your medical records without your permission. If you usually use your parents’ insurance, you can ask for testing to not be filed to your parents’ insurance company and pay for it directly. Ask a staff member for an updated price list.
As part of the exam, you may be asked some very personal questions about your medical and sexual history. While this may be uncomfortable, it important to answer accurately and honestly so your healthcare provider can provide adequate care and address any concerns.
Questions your healthcare provider might ask you…
- Have you ever or are you currently having sex?
- How many partners have you had?
- Do you have sex with females, males, or both?
- Do you have oral sex? Anal sex?
- Do you use condoms or other barrier methods?
- Are you having any symptoms?
- Have you ever had an STI before?
- Does your partner(s) have any STIs or symptoms?
- When was your last menstrual cycles? (if applicable)
Most STI results will be available within 3 to 5 days. Your healthcare provider will contact you through secure message on your Patient Portal about your test results.
Talking about your STI status with a potential partner can reduce anxiety around transmitting STIs and keep you and your partner healthy. It’s best to initiate this conversation in a private space before you start having sex.* Refrain from using stigmatizing language like “dirty” or “clean.” Here are some ways to start the conversation…
- Hey, before things get heated, I wanted to talk about managing STIs. Have you been tested recently? How do you feel about using condoms?
- FYI, I got tested for HIV last week and the test results came back negative, so I started PrEP. What’s your HIV status?
- I know this conversation can be awkward, but I wanted to talk about STIs. I found out I had chlamydia last year, but I took my medication so don’t have it anymore. When were you last tested for STIs?
If a partner informs you they have an STI, remember to stay calm and be supportive. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexual behavior – they could have gotten the STI from their infancy or from a sexual assault. Take time to learn the facts, ask your partner about experience, and process this news.
*Sex includes all forms of sexual contact, including vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, manual sex, naked grinding, and kissing.
- Minimize number of sexual partners
- Get vaccinated for Hepatitis B and HPV
- Take PrEP for HIV prevention
- Ask your potential partner(s) about their STI status and sexual history
- Avoid using alcohol or other drugs prior to sexual activity because they can interfere with decision-making, consent, and sexual performance
If you (or your potential partner) are unsure of your STI status or have a positive STI status, you’ll want to take extra precautions:
- Abstain from sexual activity until finished with antibiotic medication
- Take antiviral medication as prescribed and talk with your potential partner(s) about engaging in low-risk behaviors
- Use barrier methods consistently and correctly
- Use a water- or silicone-based lube to reduce friction and minimize tearing of tissues
- Wash shared sex toys thoroughly between uses
There are vaccines available for Hepatitis B and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The hepatitis vaccine prevents liver disease and cancer, and the HPV vaccine prevents cancer and genital warts. The vaccines are safe, effective, and long-lasting.
CDC vaccination guidelines:
Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all children, starting at birth in a 3-dose series spread over many months.
The recommended age for HPV vaccination is 11-12 years. Vaccine can be administered as young as age 9 years. For all adolescents, the vaccine is given as a 2-dose series if the series is initiated before age 15 years. If the series is begun at age 15 or later, 3 doses of vaccine are given.
If you are unsure of your vaccination status, call the UHC to check your medical records. Students can make an appointment in the Allergy and Travel Clinic to get vaccinated. Vaccination is generally covered under most health insurance plans since it is considered primary, preventative care.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a medication for people without HIV to prevent getting HIV through sex or injection drug use. PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed.
Some insurance plans cover PrEP. There are also programs that provide PrEP for free or at reduced cost. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss your options.
In addition to discussing STIs, it’s also important to talk to a potential partner about their sexual desires and boundaries before initiating any sexual activity. The only way to make sure an activity is okay with a potential partner is to ask them.
Here are a few questions to start the conversation…
- If this is your first time, what are you nervous about? How can I help you feel more comfortable?
- What do you not want to do?
- What have you enjoyed doing before? And what do you want to try with me?
- What do you want to do now?
- At what point do you want to stop? Do you feel comfortable letting me know when you want to stop? And how will you let me know if you want to stop?
- What sexual problems have you in the past that would be helpful for me to know about?
Remember to check in throughout the sexual experience to make sure you and your partner are on the same page about what is happening — and what might happen next. Verbal communication is the best way to ensure everyone involved is consenting and enjoying the experience.